The year--1854. The place--Puget Sound in newly created Washington Territory. Surveyor of the northern railroad route and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 34 year-old Governor Isaac Stevens plots to exterminate the Native Americans in order to confiscate their land and make way for the proposed transcontinental railroad. Disregarding the suffering it will bring to all and focused only on the prosperity it will bring to the settlements, he forces the U.S. Army, the tribes and the settlers into a vicious war. Ambitious and ruthless, he swears that no man will stand in his way. Leschi, a peaceful Nisqually man, becomes War Chief in a dramatic ceremony. With courage, cleverness and a flare for statesmanship, he leads the warriors of the combined Puget Sound Tribes in a desperate fight for survival. Sam Devin, a trapper, stands between the opposing forces as peacemaker while Ezra Meeker leads the pioneer citizens in a rebellion against the budding dictator, Stevens. The screenplay unfolds in a web of intrigue, love, betrayal and honor. Battles flow through the forests and the courtrooms. Serene and immovable above the blood and fear, the sacred mountain called Ranier by Americans and Tahoma by the Native Americans watches.
Nearly 150 years later, Tahoma once again watched as a bloodless battle was fought in another courtroom, and Justice finally smiled on Chief Leschi, forever lifting the onus of murder from his name and his history.
On the morning of December 10, 2004, most people living in Tacoma huddled in warm rooms and watched sheets of wind-driven rain skip across the windows. Others faced the infamous Puget Sound weather to witness an extraordinary event. A distinguished panel of judges took their places in a makeshift museum courtroom. Attorneys for prosecution and defense, witnesses, print and video jounalists, Tribal dignitaries and interested spectators waited eagerly. The first Historical Court of Justice ever convened in the United States of America was to examine the case of a man accused, arrested, convicted and executed for murder 146 years ago. The man's name was Leschi, member of the Nisqually Tribe and leader of the Puget Sound Tribes during their fight against extinction.
Over the following hours, equally distinguished witnesses testified. Some were University historians. Tribal history experts related the history of the man Leschi and the times in which he lived. Experts in military and civil law of the mid-1860s offered insight into the court systems and laws of that time. After all testimony had been given and the attorneys had argued their cases for and against upholding Leschi's conviction, the judges retired to consider the case. Suspense built as time passed. Finally, the judges returned. Silence gripped the crowd. After explaining how they had reached their conclusion, the judges spoke the words that forever exonerated Leschi from the onus of murder. After 146 years, justice finally reached Leschi.
Anne T. Kaylene now brings Leschi and early Washington history to life in her novel and screenplay titled Judicially Murdered. Her great, great uncle Ezra Meeker was a juror in Leschi's first trial, one of only two members of the jury who voted not guilty. Anne was present at the Historical Court of Justice as spectator and tearful witness when the two ends of a 146-year-long twisted coil of events finally joined to exonerate Leschi, a man she had grown to respect. That was the end of the story which began when. . .
In 1853, Congress separated the huge Oregon Country and formed Washington Territory. By treaty with the British, the Canadian/American border was established. White settlers celebrated the event, but the Native Americans paid little attention to the change. An influx of settlers crossed the plains in covered wagons. Others sailed to Puget Sound. These were not bachelor traders, trappers or fishermen. They were farmers with families, men who would solidify America's claim to the area. With them came 34 year-old Isaac Ingalls Stevens, the first territorial governor. He was also charged with surveying a northern route for the proposed transcontinental railroad, and he was Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory.
Many changes were rapidly going forward in America. Congress was debating the construction of a transcontinental railroad that would link the East Coast with the West Coast. Southern states were threatening to split from the union. The Civil War was less than a decade away. Gov. Stevens was charged with surveying a northern route for the railroad. He knew that the territory chosen by Congress as the western terminus would prosper and soon have an opportunity to join the Union as a state. It was his ambition to persuade the decision makers in Washington, D.C., to choose Puget Sound. The path he followed was tragic.
Difficult times often produce extraordinary leaders. That period of Washington history was one of those times.
Ezra Meeker, his wife Eliza Jane and his brother Orville came to the territory in 1853, and they settled near present-day Puyallup. In his early 20s, Ezra was typical of the young, adventurous men who came west to farm. He had no idea that in just a few years, he would become a rebel against his government and a major player in a drama that echoes even today in Washington State.
Leschi's birth coincided with the rising of a special star above the Nisqually Basin. His Nisqually Tribe believed that a boy child born at the rising of the star would become a War Chief. This was a rare office, because the man who held it led not only his own tribe but all of the Puget Sound Tribes into battle against some powerful and common threat. Leschi was just a boy when the first White explorers arrived on Puget Sound. All his life, he knew his destiny, but the call to lead the Tribes was long in coming. A peaceful coexistence with the Whites seemed inevitable. Gov. Stevens' Medicine Creek Treaty changed that and propelled Leschi into the office of War Chief.
The aftermath of that fateful treaty would forever link War Chief Leschi, Ezra Meeker and Gov. Stevens in American history.
Judicially Murdered tells the true story of the events and people. The title of the book comes from Leschi's tombstone, and the entire inscription is quoted in the book's epilogue. Anne spent 2 years researching the facts in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Puyallup before writing the novel. A former psychiatric nurse, she examined many old documents to uncover the personalities of the main characters: Leschi, Ezra Meeker and Gov. Stevens. The Nisqually Tribe has recognized Judicially Murdered as the most accurate depiction of their people of that time, and some of the facts in the book have never before appeared in print.